Commerce: Tony Pedregon preview

At site of first tour victory, Pedregon tries to win no. 23. Points leader tries to extend advantage at Atlanta Dragway. COMMERCE, Ga. (May 2-4) -- Seven years after the fact, Tony Pedregon returns this week to the scene of the crime. It was...

At site of first tour victory, Pedregon tries to win no. 23.
Points leader tries to extend advantage at Atlanta Dragway.

COMMERCE, Ga. (May 2-4) -- Seven years after the fact, Tony Pedregon returns this week to the scene of the crime.

It was at Atlanta Dragway on April 21, 1996, that the 38-year-old Latino driving star mugged his mentor in the final round of the Summit Racing Southern Nationals and forever changed the competitive landscape of Funny Car drag racing.

Although he now can laugh about winning his first national event at the expense of John Force, the man who gave him his big break in racing, at the time Pedregon didn't know quite what to expect from the man who has dominated Funny Car racing for most of the last 14 seasons.

After all, he had been working at John Force Racing, as driver of a second second Castrol GTX® entry, for just five months when he found himself in the Atlanta winners' circle.

Having won the previous four years in the Southern Nationals and having won the three NHRA tour events immediately preceding the 1996 Atlanta race, Force would have been a heavy favorite in the final even if he wasn't, in effect, racing against himself.

"I got to the far end and even though it was my first win and I wanted to celebrate, it was tough," Pedregon said. "It was kinda like biting the hand that feeds you."

Seven years later, though, the 22-time tour winner has no remorse and Force's initial comment on the situation ("it looks like I've hired my own assassin") seems to have become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Pedregon, winner of more Funny Car races than anyone who NEVER won the championship, comes into this year's race leading the POWERade points while Force is eighth in the standings, his streak of 10 consecutive titles very much in jeopardy.

"I always said that if anybody beat me, I hoped it would be Tony, but I didn't think he'd take it so serious," Force joked.

The truth is that Pedregon has been very serious all season long, winning three of the season's first six races at the wheel of a Castrol SYNTEC^Ù Ford that has been dominant since last September.

This year, Pedregon has covered the standard distance in as few as 4.739 seconds, becoming just the third Funny Car driver -- after Force and Whit Bazemore -- to break the 4.740 second barrier.

He's qualified no worse than third in the first six races although, ironically, each of his victories has come not after he's qualified first (three times), but on the three occasions on which he has started third (at Pomona, Calif., Las Vegas and Houston).

Runner-up to Force four times in driver points (1996, 1997, 1999 and 2002), Pedregon this year has supplanted his boss as the unquestioned performance leader in the Funny Car division.

Over the last 13 races, he has led the qualifying seven times, gone to the finals seven times and won six times. Moreover, he has advanced beyond the first round in 17 straight races, the longest active streak in any category.

-www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , John Force